Tag Archives: Time

Accumulated Potential

In The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche writes:

Countless things that humanity acquired in earlier stages, but so feebly and embryonically that nobody could perceive this acquisition, suddenly emerge into the light much later—perhaps after centuries; meanwhile they have become strong and ripe. […] ¶ All of us harbor concealed gardens and plantings; and, to use another metaphor, we are, all of us, growing volcanoes that approach the hour of their eruption; but how near or distant that is, nobody knows—not even God.1

In “On the Concept of History,” Walter Benjamin writes:

Thinking involves not only the movement of thoughts, but their arrest as well. Where thinking suddenly comes to a stop in a constellation saturated with tensions, it gives that constellation a shock, by which thinking is crystallized as a monad. The historical materialist approaches a historical object only where it confronts him as a monad. In this structure he recognizes the sign of a messianic arrest of happening, or (to put it differently) a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past. He takes cognizance of it in order to blast a specific era out of the homogeneous course of history; thus, he blasts a specific life out of the era, a specific work out of the lifework. As a result of this method, the lifework is both preserved and sublated in the work, the era in the lifework, and the entire course of history in the era. The nourishing fruit of what is historically understood contains time in its interior as a precious but tasteless seed.2

The pairing of these two might initially seem out of place, but Benjamin was well aware of—and inspired by—Nietzsche’s work.

1 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1974 [1887]), 83-84.
2 Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History” (1940), in Selected Writings: Volume 4, 1938-1940, trans. Edmund Jephcott, et al., eds. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, Massechusetts: Harvard University Press, 2006), 396.

Radioactive Waste, Deep Time, and Future Logograms

I’ve been sitting in on Peter Galison’s class at UChicago, and it’s been fantastic so far. Two days ago he spent some time discussing the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, where radioactive waste is to be stored for at least the next 10,000 years. That projection of time made us laugh oddly, but it seems that our laughter reveals an inability to comprehend such a span. Given our temporal distance from that point, there is an ongoing debate about how we might warn future humans (or maybe other kinds of sentient beings) about the buried dangers in the vast salt basin. Now we might have the task of writing a language for the future.

All this debate about these materials and the plans for the future can be analyzed as a way in which we know ourselves in the world. These deadly materials that we can’t completely master are forcing us to face problems that will last generations.